Mountains Sickness & Its Prevention

As a mountain illness have been studied more intensively, it has become evident that they fall along a spectrum of altitude – related problems, and they are now less frequently considererd as separate , discrete illnesses. Some form of moutain sickness in likely to affect any one who ascends rapidly above 8000 feet, but lack of oxygen will affect different individuals differently.


Mountain sickness is categorized into three types bases on how someone’s body organs are affected by going higher.

a) Acute mountain sickness (AMS)

A climber suffers from Acute Mountain Sickness commonly display non-specific symptoms including headache,instestinal upset, insomnia,dizziness,fatigue and dehydration


b) High Altitude Cerebral Adema (HACE)

Acute moutain sickness usually improves in a few hours/days , but when the symptoms worsen and show indications that the brain is affected, we consider that the condition has shifted along the mountain sickness spectrum to high altitude cerebral adema (HACE). In simpler terms HACE means sweeling of the brain. This condition is quite serious and potentially fatal unless quickly and adequately treated. We are confident that mountain Illiness is caused to some degree by a disruption of function of the the brain or nerves.


One of the early sign fo HACE is “ataxia” manifested by difficulty with walking, inabilty to do simple heel -to-toe test or to put one’s finger to the nose and some times inabilty to control arms or hand motion. This lack of coordination is probably due to malfunction of an area of the brain called the “cerebellum” that is responsible for balance and coordination.


c) High Altitude Pulmonary Adema(HAPE)

When the thin air of the high Mountains afflicts the lungs, the resuting illness in called HAPE. The function of lung is to supply oxygen (air) to the blood which delivers it to all the cells of the body.



A climber with HAPE presents a more serious picture than the individual who sufffers from Acute Mountain Sickness. He/She looks miserably sick, not merely uncomfortable. Increasing weakness and shortness of breath are out of proportion to effort and “cyanosis” (bluish nails and lips ) is deeper than expected at that altitude.Remember that bluish nails, lips and ears are common even in health people at altitude, and cold can cause the skin to look blue. At altitude cyanosis is due to the generalized deficit of oxygen in the arterial blood as compared to an oxygen deficit only in the skin in cold weather at lower altitudes.


Sometimes people with HAPE also exhibit aminous signs of the HACE portion of the spectrum (headache,confusion and ataxia – the staggering walk of HACE. A climber who has come up too rapidly to altitude, this combination of symptoms should be considered dangerous so should be treated urgently because rapid deterionation is not uncommon.




Obviously, the best way to avoid Mountain illnesses is to stay home and not venture above 5,000m feet. But if you go to high mountains there are sevaral ways to stay well. ( Mountain wellness.) It does not take much. Many climbers can avoid the worst effects of Mountains sickness simply by ascending slowly,recognizing their individual susceptibilities and taking some relatively innocuous medications if needed.


To understand PREVENTION you must first know the potential problems of high altitude and why they exist. Even a little understanding of air and the atmosphire,even a rough idea of  how the heart and lungs to their work,is a good start. The first and best preventive measure is to take your time – GO UP SLOWLY. HOW SLOWLY?? Very few people notice the effects of altitude at 5,000m feet. You can be advised to climb only  up to the 1,000 feet a day above altitude – but  in the modern world,few people are willing or able to take that much time. We all seem to be in hurry these days.


HOW SLOW IS SLOW ENOUGH?? The higher you climb and the faster you ascend the greater your chances of getting mountain sickness. Approximalety one person in fivehas some symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness. (AMS) at 7000 – 9000 feet elevation,but twice that may develop symptoms at 10,000 feet.Most healthy people can ascend rapidly to 5,000 feet without experiencing symptoms of AMS and then proceed to  9,000 – 10,000 feet the next day without significant difficulties.



Simply means to stay /sleep longer at a certain altitude level to get used with new weather/climate conditions. Acclimatization the altitude at which you sleep is also a factor in severity of mountain sickness. Sleeping/Staying low helps to avoid mountain sickness. A demanding climber requires more oxygen for physical and mental effort and both of these strain physiologic resources. However, the better your acclimatization, the higher you can climb a day.



The Kidneys need to excrete some water to eliminate bicarbonate and other west substances. This suggests the need to drink more water in the moutains and has led to the assumption that a copious flow of urine at altitude would minimize mountain sickness and speed acclimatization.


We had a fantastic 10-day safari, sleeping in tented lodges or fixed lodges - Serengeti, Tarangire, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, Arusha National Park & 2 african culture walking days to see villages, schools, land culture etc. Very varied, informative, saw almost all the animals, we make our african adventure unforgettable!! ..
    from Cbidule, Geneva, Switzerland



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